And now for a new adventure: The Silver Award trek: 12 students, 2 teachers & 1 guide. Heading east again on the same journey as to Huaraz except this time in the moonlight. The full moon gave an eery effect to the striking scenery, making the mountains gleem silvery like tall ghosts on either side of the valley, towering above us. After an 8 hour bus ride we arrived in Chinqua at 1am at 3350m altitude. Despite the hour the town was alive with marching band, fireworks, crackers and general joviality in some kind or anniversary celebration that lasted through the night and continued to accompany our early breakfast in the Huayhash hotel.
The drive from Chinqua to Llamac to commence our trek was another adrenaline charged experience! The reaction of the other staff members confirmed that it was not just my paranoia – it really was quite a terrifying drive down a zig-zagging narrow windy gravel road, descending into the valley and up the other side. However, when I did chance a glance, it was stunning. In Llamac we gave our backpacks to the “arreros” (donkey drivers) then began the steep ascent of our trek.
The previous week when I had been teaching the students how to unpack, set up and pack their tents, the teacher in charge gave me the map and indicated the journey. I admit I was a little taken aback when she said the first day of trekking entailed a 1000m ascent over 15 km, estimating it to take 8 hours. That sounded pretty tough to me! Well it certainly was! It was up and up and up with no relenting. We ended up having to use the back up ponies as some students succumbed to exhaustion or the effects of altitude or a combination of both. We finally got to the Pampa Llamac pass at 3pm, having set out at 8:30am.
However the journey was far from over! We had to descend into the next valley and walk to Laguna Jahuacocha. It sounded easy and indeed magestic, but it took far longer than anticipated with us arriving close to 7:00pm, in the dark. It is not easy setting up a tent with a head torch. It is even harder when the tent pegs are missing!! We also had tired, hungry, thirsty and grumpy kids.
Amazingly I slept well and at 5am when my bladder alerted me, I crawled out of my tent, convinced someone had put on a floodlight! The full moon was so incredibly bright that you could not look directly at it. An hour later Rommel woke me saying “Karen, now is the best time to take photos!”. And wow! The sun was behind the mountain and the early light revealed a blue cloudless sky, frost underfoot, ice on the lake and clear views of the Cordillera Huayhuash (mountain range). No wonder National Geographic rate this as the 2nd best trek in the world, next to Annapurna in Nepal. I could not stop taking photos and saying “WOW”!
The day continued to reward us with clear skies as we headed off on a shorter 5km trek to the next lake. However at 4100m, any trek is tough! We walked all along Lake Jahuacocha and then up another hill and onto a ridge to another amazing surprise. I have never seen such a colour as the rich turqouise of the higher Laguna Solteracocha. It lies at 4120m and is surrounded by high walls and cornices. Standing on the edge, looking over towards Rondoy, Yetupaja, Razac & Civla Mountains, you feel you could almost reach out and touch the huge glacier. We were so close you could clearly make out the seracs. Here we had our lunch.
Rommel suggested I go on and walk up to the next pass: Sambuya Punta (without the students). It was another 800m higher and he estimated it would take me 3 hours. It was tough, but again, just a feast of views with new peaks revealing themselves in differing perspectives and light. I was also entirely alone – not a soul in sight. It took me 2 heart-pounding hours. I took a photo looking back at the lake every half an hour and I just did not seem to be getting any further away! It was steep! Finally I got over a ridge and could see where I was heading – the pass was between sharp rocky peaks. Once there I could see over into the next valley and beyond. I used the timer on my camera for the first time to get some shots at the pass. I took 3 shots from different angles, but also nearly got blown off! The only thing missing was prayer flags! The descent was awful! I was terrified in the first 50 m that I would end up on my bum and slide all the way down. It was hard getting a grip on the bare gravel on the top section. It took me an hour to get down and another hour to get back to the camp. I was glad I went – it was a physical challenge but worth it. I certainly pushed my limits.
That evening the lovely wife of our horse man invited me into her hut for a steaming hot cup of “Mate de Coca”- now that’s the secret to my trekking success! Hah!